Four police officers and a protester were killed Thursday in a confrontation in Nicaragua, where violent unrest has left over 300 people dead in three months amid anti-government demonstrations.
“Five people died in a confrontation in Morrito, of whom four were police officers and one a protestor,” Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center of Human Rights (CENIDH).
According to initial information, the confrontation took place where a march passed near a police command in Morrito, in the Rio San Juan department in southeastern Nicaragua, during a day of demonstrations called by Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, in opposition of President Daniel Ortega.
Movement leader Francisca Ramirez said the protesters — some of whom were armed — were “attacked by police and paramilitaries,” and responded with gunfire.
Morrito, a town of 6,000 people, is home to many farmers who are armed to protect their land from land grabs.
The town is located 90 minutes southwest of the capital Managua, near the proposed interoceanic canal and less than 30 minutes from the Costa Rica border.
Police confirmed the deaths but blamed the violence on “terrorist groups” that pretended to be carrying out a peaceful march and opened fire on a police station.
Protesters also abducted nine police officers and attacked the Morrito town hall, the police said in a statement.
In Managua, thousands of people waving blue and white Nicaraguan flags marched Thursday along downtown avenues in a violence-free procession. Referring to Ortega, many chanted, “He must go!”
Carolina Aguilar, 52, accused the Ortega government of killing protesters with impunity. “We cannot live with a murderer, with a scorpion that kills us day after day. I would give my life for this end,” she told AFP.
Responding to the three-day protest movement, Ortega’s government has announced a counter-measure for Friday: a procession from Managua to Masaya, 30km to the south, in remembrance of the Sandinista revolution.
Ortega’s annual procession to Masaya commemorates the July 19 popular uprising that ended 43 years of the Somoza family dynasty.
Masaya is now, as it was then, a bastion of opposition resistance to an oppressive regime — only Ortega, 72, is no longer a friend but the enemy.
News of Ortega’s procession has struck fear among the indigenous community of Monimbo, a southern suburb of Masaya, where citizens have built barricades of bricks to keep out government forces and last Sunday at least 14 people were killed after police and pro-government paramilitaries moved in to clear barricades.
“No one’s coming in unless they kill every last one of us,” a man, guarding a Monimbo barricade with his face covered by a cap and olive green shirt, told AFP.